Thursday, 12 September 2013
D'YA WANT SOME?
I've been thinking a lot lately about entitlement. And I've come to the conclusion that it's the base for most, if not all, the discontent, unhappiness, and strife that is a feature of human living.
Take one of the most important aspects of most adults' lives - a job, work.
There is this insidious and automatic expectation that everyone is entitled to a good job and that, furthermore, we should be happy in our job.
But generally, most people don't seem to be happy at work. There's a scale - a range - to that unhappiness, certainly - from downright miserable and downtrodden to relatively ok. But I can't think of one single person that I know that honestly says "I LOVE my job". I've read books by people who say they love what they do. But these people aren't employed. They are artists, creatives, authors, musicians and they get paid to do what they love by people who love what they do. These people as a percentage of the population are in a minority.
And yes, I know that the society/culture that we have couldn't operate in the way that it does unless most people worked at a job that pays them a wage to make goods or provide services for other people to spend their money on that they've earnt by making goods or providing services for other people... etc., etc., etc.
"It's how the system works", I hear you cry. Yes. Yes, it is. But it doesn't make it conducive to happiness, does it?
"No, no", I hear you concur, "But it's the way things are."
Well then, my retort is "Then the way things are, is stupid."
A system that means that most people are generally unhappy, frustrated, bored, and miserable at work is a stupid system. Because only a few people benefit. We don't really know who those people are. But they are the ones who do very little work and profit massively from a system that pays most people just enough to live on to produce the goods and services that will be sold to everyone at a price that means that, after the wages and the other costs of production have been accounted for, will result in a huge surplus of money. There are many books and blogs which set out how and why this system works, so I'm not going to go into that here.
The point I want to make though, is that the notion of entitlement keeps people stuck in these jobs that deliver, at worst, misery and, at best, mild boredom.
And this is why:
People think they're entitled to a job because they've been conditioned and brought up to believe that if they work hard at school, get a skill or trade, then they will get a 'good job'. This good job will pay them a fair wage with associated benefits in payment for the skill or trade that they have. They sign a contract which sets out the obligations on both sides, relating to duties, hours, payment, benefits etc; which details precisely each side's entitlement. But nowhere in that contract is there explicit or implicit reference to happiness or satisfaction from the arrangement.
Ah, except there is. There are two parts of the contract which relate to happiness and satisfaction. There is the appraisal or disciplinary process, which allows the employer to take action if they are not happy with your performance.
"But what if I'm not happy? I can't discipline or appraise my employer." I hear you protest (you're very vocal today, aren't you?).
You can, though. Very, very effectively. It's called resignation. And that's a very apt word. Because when you reach the point where you realise that you're not happy in your work, when you resign yourself to that fact, you do something about it and you leave.
But all too often - really, all too often - people have an expectation that if they're not happy in their job then someone or something else is to blame. I have no idea where people got this expectation from. I can't ever remember anyone telling me that if I worked hard at school and worked hard in my jobs that I would be happy and satisfied and fulfilled. They told me that I would get a good job, with decent pay and benefits. But I can't remember anyone, ever, telling me that I would be happy.
Isn't that strange? We somehow conflate a job with adequate pay and good benefits as automatically resulting in happiness and fulfillment. As though a wage and free lunch and private health insurance will mean that we find our work meaningful and fulfilling.
But, see - here's the thing: It's not your employer's job to make you happy. Unless by ensuring your happiness you produce more. But if it makes no difference to what you produce or the service you provide then... fuck it, why would they bother? Their job is to make sure that the company/concern they run/own makes money. That's it. They couldn't give a gnat's willy whether or not you're happy. Really. It's not that they hate you. They don't really care about you one way or another (unless you're one of those whining complainers who's always coming to them with their problems - with their entitlement to happiness - in which case, you'd better have something on them, cos if not you'll find yourself being appraised out of a job or surplus to requirements. Because those people they DO hate).
You're a unit of production to them. A human resource. That's it. They may 'blah, blah', about employee satisfaction and work/life balance and investing in people but these initiatives are, by and large, box-ticking exercises.
Although, if we think that our employers care about our happiness and fulfillment then they have already gone some way to achieving that objective, because if it looks like they care about our happiness, then we'll feel valued and happier!
Make no mistake, if making you happy costs them but doesn't result in increased profitability then they won't care either way. It's like the whole private medical insurance thing. Most employees think that companies provide this as a benefit because they want people to have better health care when they're ill or injured. They do. But not because they want you to be happy. Or because it makes them upset when you're ill and ailing. They care because they want you back at work. Toot sweet. Honestly. I know - I used to work in the private medical insurance industry. They don't want to have to fork out sick pay for six months whilst you languish on an NHS waiting list because you've got a bad back, and a pay a temp meanwhile to do your job. It's much more cost-effective to pay for a bulk corporate medical insurance policy and get you treated and back to being productive as quickly as possible. Plus, of course, it has the nice side-effect that you think they care about you; that they value you. And they do - providing that side-effect of caring is commercially and economically viable. Because that's their job. To make money, to make sure that the company makes money or, at the very least, doesn't make a loss - that everything gets paid. End of. Whether or not they're happy and fulfilled while they're doing it, is neither here nor there.
It's not their job to make you happy and it's not your job to make them happy. It's a financial transaction you have - not a relationship.
It's your job to turn up, fulfill your contractual obligations, don't whine, don't give them problems that don't need solving, then take yourself off at the end of the working shift to replenish and amuse yourself until you're required on the next shift to go through the whole thing again.
(And, yes - I know there are some companies that don't appear to operate like this, but very few - if you can come up with one company/concern that has at the heart of it's mission statement 'We want our employees to be happy, regardless of how much profit we make', then you'll be showing me a rarity and probably an impossibility too!).
Even those companies that put employee happiness high on their objectives only do so for a reason. This from one of the companies in the Times' top 100 companies to work for: "As a result, we have built up a team of enthusiastic, talented and experienced xxxx with extremely low staff turnover. This gives us a clear return on the investment in our employees and gives you an unbeatable consistency of staffing and of customer service."
Did you notice the key component of this blurb? The only reason they want their employees to be happy is because it gives them a market edge.
And, why not? Of course, that's how it is. When everything is geared to profit then that becomes the definer and everything else is secondary if it isn't contributing to that one end. So whether people are happy is only relevant in relation to the profit it produces. If profit is dependent on happy workers, then they will ensure that you're happy. If profit is dependent on efficiency and quick, nimble actions (such as assembling smart phones, say) then they'll make sure that what's those workers are able to do. Happiness then becomes irrelevant (unless being happy leads directly to measurable increases in efficiency and quick, nimble actions).
So,whether it's making x widget in x minutes, or typing x letters in x hours, or serving x customers in x hours, or answering x calls in x minutes whilst adhering to the script, or curing x patients in x months, or returning x amount on investment - whatever it is, most of us are on a conveyer belt. A conveyer belt that churns out money - money for someone else - then it's hardly surprising that we're not happy.
So, where does that leave most of us? Stuck in a situation that puts money as the top dog. Because we've got to be realistic here. We live in a consumerist society. And that's what a consumerist society does. It consumes and it spits out money as its end result. And we all know that money doesn't make you happy. It might make you more comfortable and give you more choice, but it doesn't make you happy. It doesn't fulfill you. It really can't buy you love. The stupidly successful, very talented and very rich Jim Carey said: "I wish everyone could experience being rich and famous, so they'd see it wasn't the answer to everything." And what he's really saying here is that being rich and famous doesn't make you happy. So, what does?
I think it's this: Find what you love and do that regardless of the pay and benefits. Because if you do what you love, and find people that love what you do, then it won't matter what your pay or benefits are, because you'll be happy and fulfilled.
And it may be possible to do what you love and be employed doing it. I do think there are some people (not many, but some) that are fortunate to be paid by an employer to do what they love. But because the system isn't set up with this end in sight, then that's not what it produces. So, what's the alternative? Well, the alternative, obviously, is to leave and do what you love.
But we say things like "I can't leave, I've got a family to support" "I can't leave, it's too convenient". Or the real killer, the real immobiliser: "I can't leave, it's the only job I can get."
This is the real 'go straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect £200' statement.
And it's just not true.
It's not the only job they can get. It was the job they did get. They applied for it, interviewed, got offered and accepted. And yes, it may have been the only job they were offered at the time. But it's not the only job they can get.
If they could get that job, it's a fair certainty that they could get another one. True, it might be comparable to the one they've got (or it might even be slightly worse!), but it's not the only job they can get.
And if it is true that it's the only job they can get, they might want to look at the reasons why. Just why is it that out of all the millions of jobs available there is only one for them. If it's true then either it's their dream job, or they are so utterly crap at everything else that this is the only thing they can do, so they might as well accept it and enjoy it.
But I don't believe that's true. Not for anyone. I don't believe there's anyone who only has one limited and specific ability that means they don't have options.
People might not want to be be bothered. They may not want to face up to the truth that they're too lazy/afraid/complacent to do anything about it. So they blame everything and everyone else precisely because they don't want to do anything about it. And again there's that word: stupid. It's not right or wrong, it's just downright stupid and it makes for so much unhappiness.
To get bogged down by fear and convenience and security (which is an illusion anyway) in exchange for happiness is stupid and sad.
So.. do we want to be happy? Or do we want to be safe/lazy/unhappy? Do we want to go on believing that we have an entitlement to expect someone else to make us happy? Or can we just go ahead and do what we love?
Hardly anyone reads this blog. I don't make money from it. I just do it because I love reading, thinking and writing. It makes me happy. Will it lead to me being able to earn my living from it? Who knows? But unless I keep doing it, unless I keep doing what makes me happy, I'll never find out. And if I still have to earn enough money to pay the rent and the bills by trading 8 hours a day for a barely-adequate amount of money to do that, then I'll carry on. But I'm making a commitment now to spend as much of the rest of my time as I can to doing what makes me happy. There, I've said it. I choose myself. (A thank you to James Altucher and his excellent book "Choose Yourself").
I choose to do, as much as possible, what makes me happy. Because that's my job. I get paid, at the moment, to type letters and answer phone calls and administrate. But that's not my real job. My real job is to do what makes me happy.
And your real job is to make you happy. If you happen to get paid for it - great. If not, then do it anyway, because you might find that doing what makes you happy, doing what you love to do, makes others happy because they love what you do too.